Peterhead Prison was built aroundabout 1888. It was originally designed to hold 208 prisoners and to be Scotland’s only prison for convicted inmates.However occupancy averaged at around 350 , it peaked at 455 in 1911. More buildings were completed in the years 1909, 1960 and 1962, bringing capacity up to 362.
Peterhead prison finally closed for business in 2013, and replaced by the HMP Grampian, Scotland’s first prison to house young offenders, men and women.
Until Peterhead Prison was opened, Scottish prisoners were routinely transported to England to see out their sentences. The first prisoners to be received in the prison arrived August 1888.
Peterhead prison supplied the labour force to work in a local Quarry and in the Admiralty Yard which was attached to the prison. These convicts helped support the work of civilian labourers employed by the Admiralty to construct a Harbour of Refuge breakwater.
The Admiralty project was unique to Scotland and was served by the only state-owned passenger carrying railway in its day.
Peterhead Prison had a history of poor conditions for prisoners and a harsh brutal regime, being often referred to as “Scotland’s gulag, a prison of no hope” or “The Hate Factory”. The 2005 inspection reported that electricity had only just been made available in cells and slopping out continues to be the norm at the prison.
In 1979 Johnny and his brother Jim along with another 8 inmates stormed the punishment block in protest at the out-dated regime and conditions, ultimately a Victorian regime was being implemented and enforced. They held the punishment block for 5 days and 5 nights, the secretary of state for Scotland at the time ‘Malcolm Rifkind’ even made an appearance to try and talk the protesters around. Johnny would be involved in numerous protests over the years, to many to document in this post but you can read about these exploits in his critically acclaimed book The Bird That Never Flew: The Uncompromised Autobiography Of One Of The Most Punished Prisoners In The History Of The British Penal System or listen to him via Shaun Attwoods podcast.
The 28 September 1987 saw a riot in the prison’s D wing which resulted in prisoners taking over the building and taking prison officer Jackie Stuart, hostage. Officer Stuart was known by the prisoners as ‘Hess’ as in the Nazi ‘Rudolph Hess’ due to him looking like him, he also had a like for physically abusing inmates in restraints or on the deck, it wasn’t just the prisoners who were crazy! The press made it known that the rioters were serving life in prison for violent crimes and put it across that they had nothing to lose and would not hesitate to make good on their threats to kill their hostage, whom they had taken up to the rafters.
The prisoners had earlier released an officer who was suffering health problems. Negotiations eventually broke down and the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, sent the SAS to intervene and bring the riot to an end on 3 October. They were successful and hostage was released unharmed and order in the prison restored.
In its latter years Peterhead prison lost its tough image when it was reinvented into a specialist centre for sex offenders, then talks of a new Peterhead prison began in 2006 and eventually came to bear fruit when HMP Grampian was opened in 2013.
Peterhead Prison is know a museum with tourists regularly taking the guided tour with an ex-officer at the helm, just a thought, but an ex-con guiding the tour along with the officer would also add an extra dimension.
Peterhead Prison has a very special place in Scotland’s penal history and means different things to different people, what do you think though? Leave a comment and subscribe for more prison related content, thanks, DC